The German politician at the centre of a growing anti-Semitism scandal was expelled from the parliamentary wing of the opposition Christian Democrat party yesterday for saying the Jews in the Russian revolution were as much "a race of perpetrators" as the Germans were under Hitler.
Martin Hohmann, a right-wing MP, was stripped of his right to vote with the main conservative party or speak on its behalf in parliament, and was banished to the back benches after 81 per cent of CDU MPs voted to eject him from the Bundestag.
Mr Hohmann's unprecedented expulsion, the first in the party's history, proved a serious embarrassment to party leaders when 28 MPs voted against the motion to eject him from the House and 16 abstained. His support was far higher than expected and looks likely to raise concerns about latent anti-Semitism in what opinion polls currently rate as Germany's most popular political party.
Yesterday, 26 people, mostly Christian Democrat members, signed a full-page notice,which appeared in several national newspapers, calling for solidarity with the ousted MP. The signatories accused the CDU leadership of choosing "a political death sentence" for Mr Hohmann instead of a "fair discussion". The scandal grew further when Brigadier-General Reinhard Guenzel, the commander of Germany's crack KSK special forces unit, was summarily dismissed by the Defence Ministry after writing to Mr Hohmann to praise him for his "courageous" speech.
Angela Merkel, the CDU leader, admitted after the vote: "Many of my colleagues found this decision difficult to make for personal reasons. These have been hard days for us but we had to draw the consequences." Her remarks led to criticism from Germany's governing Social Democrats, who insisted it was "not acceptable" for any MP to have opposed the expulsion.
Mr Hohmann made his inflammatory comments in a speech to his constituency last month. In it he claimed large numbers of "Bolshevik Jews" took part in Communist secret police massacres during the Russian revolution of 1917. "With some justification, one could describe the Jews as a race of perpetrators. That may sound horrible but it follows the same logic with which one describes the Germans as a race of perpetrators," he said.
Mr Hohmann later said: "I describe neither the Jews nor the Germans as a race of perpetrators." Historians compared his remarks to the type of propaganda devised by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's information minister. Paul Spiegel, the president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, condemned Mr Hohmann and said he had "delved into the lowest drawer of disgusting anti-Semitism".
The CDU leadership rebuked Mr Hohmann for his remarks and initially balked at further disciplinary action. After the MP refused to withdraw his comments last weekend, the party said it had little option but to expel him from its parliamentary wing and begin a lengthy procedure to strip him of party membership.
Their decision seemed to increase anger felt among rank-and-file conservatives, who have inundated the CDU headquarters with e-mails. CDU officials in the Ruhr town of Recklinghausen displayed a banner from the local party office. It read: "Nobody in Germany is allowed to tell the truth any more". Party members in Neuhof, Mr Hohmann's constituency town north-east of Frankfurt, said they were dismayed by the MP's expulsion and could not understand why the party leadership had acted with such severity against a parliamentarian who "firmly represents German interests".